‘Super 8’ Monster Gets in its Own Way
Super 8 could have been great and there are moments of greatness, but they never seem to matter when the movie reveals what it is actually about. It should almost be two movies: a fantastic coming of age story and a bad monster movie. There is a lot of Spielberg nostalgia in the film, but Abrams ultimately fails to mesh the two main aspects of the movie, making the various plots of Super 8 feel too detached from one another.
The best thing about the movie is the kids. The set of about six or seven newcomers make for a great cast and are what make Super 8 work on some level. You will wish you had friends like these when you were their age. Watching them deal with real problems, such as an alcoholic father, make them so relatable and likable. The tenderness that comes with the main character’s crush will remind you of your first crush. Super 8 could just be about them and it would have been fantastic.
Unfortunately, the monster is not handled with the same craft that the core characters are. Abrams gives us either too much or too little information on what is going on. For part of the film, the monster has the ambiguity that made Cloverfield work so well. But then, slowly, tiny bits of information are given out, but they are not enough. Either no information should have been given or much more. Super 8 could have been as good as Cloverfield or even E.T. but instead it gave us enough information to flesh out a small subplot of the movie. The problem is that in the end, the monster becomes the main plot. There are interesting ideas surrounding the monster that try to comment on the violent nature of humanity and give this monster a purpose and perhaps feelings. Yet the monster is so ruthless throughout the film that any sense of humanity is lost. I actually found that whenever the monster appeared, I got annoyed and wished that the movie would return to the smaller moments between the children.
Also, the monster plot has trouble intersecting with the main characters. There are several moments where the kids just happen to be near the monster and witness something incredible. This becomes frustrating as the kids are not especially curious about the monster and are more so curious about how to make their movie around what is happening in their town. I think this movie would have worked much better if the town was being affected by something completely different, perhaps zombies. It is the monster that removes the heart from the film.
Super 8 fails because it is too much or too little of a monster movie, yet it succeeds as a fantastic coming of age story for the young stars. If these two parts of the film had fit together more effectively, Super 8 would have been a classic set to go down with E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, but it failed to weave the plots together in a believable way. Too bad really. (**1/2 out of 4)